Serving on the frontline

By Dr. Devapriya Dev, member of the Bramhall & Woodford Rotary Club in Greater Manchester, United Kingdom

I work full-time as a Consultant Pulmonary Physician in Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, England. I have also been a Rotarian for nearly 15 years.

Since 20 March, I have been responsible for looking after a newly designated COVID-19 ward in my hospital. Along with a colleague, I was placed in charge of 30 patients. At first, I was hesitant but I started to enjoy working alongside junior doctors and nurses who also suddenly found themselves on the frontlines of the pandemic.

The first week was a challenge as adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) wasn’t available and I had three COVID-19 patients. We had the bare necessities which included a plastic apron, ordinary surgical masks and gloves. Later, we had proper FFP3 mask fittings, but due to short supply we were asked to use surgical masks which were far from ideal in protecting against the virus.

During the second week, 20 beds were filled with COVID-19 patients. I had 10 patients, ranging from 28 to 90 years old, under my care. Almost 85% of patients showed symptoms of varying degrees of pneumonia. The elderly patients had several other medical conditions and less immunity to withstand the effects of pneumonia. They took longer to recover and sadly, one person passed away. Another patient had to be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as his pneumonia worsened and he went into respiratory failure and eventually died. He was also immunocompromised.

It was a stormy week to say the least. More so because we had to reassure worried families in the middle of all these restrictions and physical distancing. We were also under pressure as two of our six Respiratory Consultants were at home self-isolating because their children or spouses were showing symptoms of COVID-19.

During the third week, the number of patients with COVID-19 had increased to 26 and now spilled over to another ward. In total, we had almost 50 cases so far. Anticipating the peak of the virus, provisions were being made for bed space, PPE, ventilators and also space in the morgue. We cancelled all our regular clinic appointments and started telephone consultations daily.

Things were getting worse. A sad case of a 35-year-old young, healthy man who was admitted with sudden onset of shortness of breath, fever and cough. He had signs of pneumonia in both his lungs, and his oxygen capacity was reducing despite a high flow of oxygen from a ventilator. Within a day, his condition worsened needing more oxygen, and he was transferred to the ICU where he sadly passed away despite all our efforts and treatment. The biggest tragedy for patients who die in the ICU is that their loved ones often don’t have a chance to see them during their final hours.

Now, nearly 10 weeks later, things are getting calmer. The number of COVID-19 patients is slowly decreasing, as is the number of deaths. As more people are tested and traced, along with social distancing measures and ‘stay home’ orders, it seems were are on track to going “back to normal.”

I have remained in touch with Rotary friends during this time and did try to attend a few Zoom meetings in my scrubs. In one of them, I was invited as a speaker and talked about my experience during this pandemic. There were many pertinent COVID-19 related questions which were brought up from Rotary members and guests and it was an informative session for everyone. Also, my club has been fundraising for charities virtually by hosting auctions, wine & cheese evenings, and more. We are trying innovate ways to raise funds remotely as our regular fundraisers have been postponed or cancelled.

I have been touched by the appreciation and gratitude expressed by my friends, neighbours and acquaintances for my services on the frontline and for putting myself at risk when everyone else is isolating themselves. I was especially moved when I drove out of my driveway at 6:15 am to go to the hospital. As I was closing my gate, I heard clapping and applause from my neighbours who woke up at 6 am, in their nightgowns to show their appreciation. It brought tears to my eyes.

Although it is my duty and I have taken an oath to serve my patients and alleviate their illnesses, we as healthcare workers never predicted we would be risking our own lives like this. These little gestures make a difference and make me feel these risks are worth taking. This, along with my principle of Service to Mankind which I have learned from my humble upbringing and the Rotary motto of Service Above Self, I hope give me strength to keep going towards this uncertain future.


10 thoughts on “Serving on the frontline

  1. Thanks for living to our service above self. You are indeed an inspiration. Using your classification to serve humanity is what every Rotarian should strive to achieve. Bravo Doctor.

  2. Thank you and your colleagues so much for all you are doing and especially for providing such an accurate summary of what its like on the ‘front line’.
    I feel you have all been badly let down by lack of preparation and political ignorance
    Keep safe, all of you, you are doing an amazing job under impossibly difficult circumstances
    Such special people.

  3. Dear Devapriya,
    I feel so privileged and honoured to have known you. Your are shining star, a beacon both as a Rotarian and also as a medical professional. I am saying this as a Rotarian of 38yrs and as former Medical Director of Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral.
    You have always been exceptional but what you are doing now is really “above and beyond”.
    Please stay safe and stay blessed

  4. My dear friend
    You and your team are simply great. I find no word to express your greatness. Doctors like you are heaven sent .
    Bijit.

  5. I am so honoured and privileged to have you as a part of my family for more than 40 years.. you are an angel sent by God…no words is enough express your greatness… prayers for you and your team and stay blessed.. Lalit Gomes.

  6. Congratulations debu ( Devapriya) to become first line covid 19 warrior as chest physician and incharge of SARI wards and publishings two papers in journals of repute & sending one such in nejm . Our institute ( Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine) all our collegues are working for since march 2020 as first line covid warriors under able & wonderful guidance I must say of our Present Director Professor Pratik kundu (microbiologist), and MSVP Prof S.K Guha( Trop med) who is also trying his best to supply all logistics for us to fight with the present epedemics and keeping us away from getting infected and Prof Bhaswati Banerjee and her all team members of virology unit, who is also incharge of testing nasopharyngeal swabs by RTPCR from various district of west Bengal and our Pathology department all colleagues and staffs in testing and reporting all Pathological samples processing( including FNAC, biopsy , sputum ,all body fluids cytology) , and reporting of hospital admitted patients ( a source of getting infected if proper precautions are not taken) or OPD patients, fever clinics, whose status of covid 19 not known (considered asymptotic) unless tested. In west Bengal since 19 th march till date 11090 patients became positive and death happened in 475 and cases increasing though fatality is less( 2.5%) in relation to other some provinces of India
    Problems is with non covid patients. As many hospitals and some medical colleges in west Bengal are declared as covid hospital and non covid illness are getting this neglected. Even if patients having AMI or stroke or develop acute surgical emergency happens ( needed surgical intervention) they are not getting either beds in private set up and even if admitted by high level catch ,they are not properly attended unless covid 19 test report comes that takes some enough times ( 5-6 hours ). If you have covid 19 symptoms and admitted in private hospitals the charge is so high that middle class people are not able to bear it. Average cost of bill is 2.5 to 3 lacks perday x 14 days at least

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